Are LinkedIn surveilling us?
June 7, 2013 4:33 AM   Subscribe

I've long suspected that the professional networking site LinkedIn may be using information such as my mobile phone records to make recommendations for connections. But today they really freaked me out. What gives?

I regularly get recommendations to connect to people which appear to be derived from something other than my Internet behaviour. Usually it's to people within my immediate social network so it's not particularly out of the ordinary. But sometimes connections are much more distant, suggesting a different kind of intel.

This morning I was invited to connect to somebody I met randomly on a terrace in foreign country a few years ago, before anybody knew what a smart phone was. We talked for an hour or so and went our separate ways. This individual is way outside any of my networks, lives on another continent, and I had forgotten all about them until today.

I'd love to know how this has happened, as I refuse to believe it's coincidence. Also curious to know if any other mefites have had a similar experience.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
6 degrees of separation is freaky, isn't it?

That's how LinkedIn works. The more people you link to, the more random people get pulled into the web.

Everytime you link to a new person, their links are presented to you as possible links. Then those folk's links, etc.

I'm finding people I knew in 1984!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:37 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not coincidence. If they search for you, or you for them, they will get suggested for your network sooner rather than later. If there are similarities between your profiles and networks at the 1st or 2nd level then they may be suggested to you. This is the secret sauce of LinkedIn, where the data analysis component powers the marketing and monetization angle. Ditto Facebook - connecting people with people and people with things is the difficult but valuable part of the business. What you're experiencing is part of the Big Data phenomenon that everyone's banging on about.

Make no mistake: LinkedIn is surveilling you in one sense. But it isn't accessing your phone records to establish the connections.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:41 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think they recommend people that search your name frequently to you. I had a creepy, nosy landlord, and he appeared as a suggested connection... That really freaked me out, but that is my guess. Linked in has very little of my personal contact info.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:41 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, I think that person searched for you, viewed your profile and LinkedIn made the recommendation. I learned that happens after I accidentally might have poked the internet too hard for an old boyfriend's ex-wife. Heh.
posted by mibo at 4:59 AM on June 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


it suggests people who searched for you?? this explains a lot.
posted by molecicco at 5:04 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's also possible the person uploaded their contact list to LinkedIn, and it included you.
posted by alms at 5:09 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This morning I was invited to connect to somebody I met randomly on a terrace in foreign country a few years ago, before anybody knew what a smart phone was. We talked for an hour or so and went our separate ways.

OK so let's say you know Jane, and Foreign Acquaintance, unbeknownst to you, also happens to know Jane. If Jane and Foreign Acquaintance connect on LinkedIn, there is a non-null chance that LinkedIn will suggest to a sub-set of Jane's friends that they might know Foreign Acquaintance, and to Foreign Acquaintance's friends they might know Jane.

If you and Jane have a lot of shared 1st degree connections, this chance rises.

So, another possibility is that someone in your connections recently added Foreign Acquaintance, who then popped up on your LinkedIn.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:12 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's also possible the person uploaded their contact list to LinkedIn, and it included you.

I think this is the most likely reason. I haven't given LinkedIn my contacts, but it regularly recommends people that I had one email exchange with maybe eight years ago. I assume it was the other person who uploaded their contacts, and so LinkedIn assumes they might want to connect with me and vice versa.
posted by stopgap at 6:11 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have had a similar experience -- actually, it suggested a Mefite I've never met in real life and have only exchanged emails with a couple of times -- and so have lots and lots of other people. Even when neither party has given LinkedIn permission to import contacts, nor have they searched for the other party, LinkedIn still suggests a connection. I don't know what they're doing or if it's in any way nefarious, but I do know a lot of other people haven't been able to figure it out either after pursuing what seem like the reasonable explanations, and now I don't trust LinkedIn at all.
posted by katemonster at 6:34 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Something else of note: Premium LinkedIn lets you see the titles, regions, and companies of people who have viewed your profile. "Names are hidden for privacy reasons," but that doesn't mean much when the other information makes who you are very distinct, does it?

That, plus the endless avalanche of email no matter how many times I unsubscribe from every mailing list they think up, keeps me at the bare LinkedIn minimum.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:14 AM on June 7, 2013


I agree with above and also want to point out that some of this is confirmation bias. A *lot* of the people it thinks I may know are people I've never heard of. But it sticks out more in my brain when it does recommend someone I actually know.
posted by radioamy at 7:39 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I think that person searched for you, viewed your profile and LinkedIn made the recommendation.

This.

I get a "You May Know..." for my ex-spouse like clockwork whenever the child support amount is up for review.
posted by Etrigan at 7:47 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Two things:

1. LinkedIn is almost certainly making recommendations based on many factors (including things people have already mentioned), singly and in combination, and then doing more of the things that work.

2. People tend to notice the recommendations that succeed at some level and ignore all the ones that are complete misses. These days, most of mine seem to be complete misses. I can't even guess why they are showing up.
posted by Good Brain at 10:52 AM on June 7, 2013


n-thing the "they probably searched for you" thing. At least I hope that's the case. I moved in to a new apartment a week ago, subletting from another guy. Guess who just showed up in my recommended connections?
posted by slater at 7:36 PM on June 9, 2013


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